Evil Ape: An Excerpt
The Merchant of Freak his friendly cart pushed,
that ricketed on one side, like a wreck,
or lame pack-horse that still forward wanders,
and this, this junkyard cart, was nonetheless,
on sides, and top, from strings and pin hanging,
acrowd with wares of singular fashion:
a withered head, once an ostrich, fire-singed,
alongside bright toys of strange aliens;
but also, in jars, brined in pickle juice,
the outcome of science experiments,
and combs stolen too from burial mounds.
All these, for a pittance in pockets go,
if his confidence you can surely take,
and so, with others in the noonday park,
who in circles sit with ears at his feet,
as he his wire beard scratches, close listen,
and hear, an odd tale told, weird as his wares.
“At Stalingrad, the snow came down,” he said,
“that graveyard of nations and broken men,
in sheets, a great shroud from Heaven sifted
that fell, and feasted, on armour like beasts.
And again, in the after, snow like that,
where the veteran Uri rifle bore
to hunt, though hand and foot but stumps, a cat,
who, with bloody tooth and claw, fields raided,
and, a red trail raised through pellet-pocked drift,
until, in throes of this Russian winter,
an end found in fences and glowing dirt.
A raw earth this, in perpetual thaw,
once a mine or nuclear fuel-well made
by Red bureau authorities, but now
to nature left, an abandoned stink-pit
of yellow pools, and popping sulfur gas,
that no ice, but always open pools showed.
To ground, the cat slinked, in some hole hiding,
among the craters where it a den sunk,
and like the Wehrmacht half-froze stumbling dazed,
Uri the invader sought to vanquish.”
A squirming nit the Merchant, from his chin,
with absent force pulled, and recognized it,
by spine and carapace, as a rare breed,
so in tube slips, before recounting more:
“The white cat jumped from heights behind Uri,
a Siberian, tight in majesty,
who with weighted force, and a lover’s grip,
submerged them both into the frothing pool.
Full furied were the fumes that poured off then,
and roiling the cauldron disturbed steam,
as pink blood was that stained the water’s skin,
and the beast’s rank fur, that from Uri leaked,
with dribs choking throat, duct and nostril pore.
After the waves to ripples calmed stepped one,
of four legs, but two now twisted like stumps,
like limbs that are to frostbite sacrificed,
and on the discards of amputees thrown
in time of war: the cat, crafty-eyed stared,
with intelligence of more than feline,
and, on sulfur-soaked snow gaited forwards.
But oh those prints that it left, of rounded shoes,
or booted feet, such as those soldiers wear,
and no more the paws of slinking pusses.”
Insistent were they, his fans, leaning in,
to hear, in this tree-thatched park, where they sat,
in a throng, around him, for his tale’s end.
But he, who spied, a likely customer, or two,
in other parts, accosted them, and sold,
with cagey banter, a coat, weakly seamed,
a hat, with caved-in crown, and pocket knives
that cut no straight lines, but blunt blades produce,
before he, unfaltering, this concludes:
“The cat’s dung was that of man, and also,
as it stood, and the wind wetly scented,
from the voices of the village, distant,
it heard the summons of Uri’s mother.
A snout up raised is, but no howl emits,
instead, gruff talk of a Russian nature
in man’s word spills: I’m coming home, Mama!
and the lynx lopes to dates with destiny.”
No more could they impose on him to speak,
the Freak, who under trees retired to sleep,
and nurse narratives for another day.